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The People Teaching People Podcast Episode 15: Learning to Support Newcomers with Anila Umar Lee Yuen

015: Learning to Support Newcomers with Anila Umar Lee Yuen

In this episode, we discuss learning to support newcomers with my guest Anila Umar Lee Yuen.

Anila is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary, Alberta. She has 28 years of experience in the settlement sector. Beyond traditional settlement services, Anila has spearheaded programming to include volunteer-led refugee supports; indigenous education for newcomers; LGBTQ+ supports, domestic violence, homeless and mental health support services and broadened vulnerable youth programming and social venture opportunities. 

Anila holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology (Behavioural Neuroscience) and a BSc in Biological Sciences from the University of Calgary and an MBA with distinction from Keller Graduate School of Management. 

Her numerous awards for her contributions to her community include the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Person’s Case, UCalgary Alumni Arch Award,  Top 40 Under 40 in Calgary, Women of Inspiration, Top 25 Women of Influence in Canada and Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada.


Listen in as we talk about:

  • The current state of immigration in Canada. Anila gives us a behind the curtain look into what the current state of immigration is truly like right now in Canada.
  • How teaching and learning are integral parts of the Centre for Newcomers. Teaching and learning happens in so many capacities, Anila shares how this is essential for the Centre.
  • Key barriers faced when people come to Canada. There are many barriers and challenges newcomers face when they come to Canada. Anila shares her perspective on this in our conversation.


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Anila Umar Lee Yuen is the President and CEO of the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary, Alberta

The government of Canada, whether Federal or Provincial, understands the value and importance of immigration. As Anila shares, almost 100% of our labor market growth and population growth are attributed to newcomers.

Truthfully, without immigration, we wouldn’t have any population growth and we certainly wouldn’t have any labor market growth. From an economic and sustainability perspective, it’s important to have immigration. Whichever government is in power works hard to ensure a steady stream of newcomers coming to Canada. 

However, Anila explains how we don’t account for any acts of God, like war, floods, etc. Currently, we have a huge increase in Afghan refugees and people coming from the Ukraine. The government doesn’t refer to these Ukranians as refugees, they’re called ‘temporary residents’ because they are supposed to go back to Ukraine when it’s safe to do so. Nevertheless, in all aspects of their lives, they’re effectively refugees. The only difference is they’re coming here without any type of benefits or support the way refugees would.

As you’ll hear, the numbers are beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. This large influx of people coming into Canada has caused issues in the system because we don’t have the resources to be able to meet the needs of the community in a timely manner.

As such, Anila and her organization have been reaching out to the community, places of worship, and different groups that are able to provide them with some funding and sponsorship so that they can get some of these most vulnerable groups, including our Afghan and Ukrainian women, into programming very quickly.


Teaching and learning are integral parts of the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary, Alberta


“Lifelong learning is so important and integral to just being human.”

Lifelong learning is essential, regardless of where you live and which part of the world you’re immigrating from. It’s necessary in order to fully participate and take advantage of everything our world and society has to offer. 

As Anila shares in our conversation, it’s important to provide educational opportunities not only for newcomers but also for the wider community to learn about social issues, including: systemic discrimination, cultural competency, cultural humility, anti-racism, and the experiences of marginalized communities such as LGBTQ+ and refugees. Without it, we become a society that is intolerant to other people, different cultures and opposing beliefs.

Understanding the intersectionality of identities and experiences is crucial in creating inclusive spaces and promoting a sense of belonging for everyone. After all, the goal is to ensure newcomers feel that sense of belonging when they arrive here. 

How can we apply our learning skills? Active learning and constantly striving to want to learn more about those who may be different from ourselves is key in creating a barrier-free society. 

Anila suggests that communities should work towards creating safe spaces and inclusive environments, not just in schools, but also in public places. 


Anila Umar Lee Yuen is the President and CEO of the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary, Alberta


Anila highlights the systemic issues that exist in Canada, which are unfortunately often unconscious and unrecognized. She shares how immigrants face challenges in adapting to a new country, culture, and way of life. They come to Canada for a better lifestyle, better opportunities, education, freedom, and a better quality of life for themselves and their children. 

It’s so important for Canadians to be welcoming, patient, and curious towards immigrants, especially children, who have the opportunity to learn about other cultures and ways of being. Having community members who are welcoming and willing to help can go a long way in making the transition easier. 

She talks about how immigrants face significant changes in navigating new systems, like enrolling their children in school, workplace culture, entertainment, and social interactions. More often than not, the process can be overwhelming, and they often feel anxious and distressed as they try to adapt to the new environment. 

Anila reminds us that immigrants have been successful adults in their home country, having spent their entire lives navigating their respective systems, fields of work, fields of study, and more. The transition to a new country requires learning a new set of systems, and it can be an overwhelming task to undertake alone. To ease some of this stress, having mentors, parents, teachers, or other support systems is essential for immigrants. 

Anila gives Canadians tips and suggestions to help be a part of that support system – ensuring that newcomers feel included and valued.


Anila Umar Lee Yuen is the President and CEO of the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary, Alberta

  • What is something that you would love to learn about or something that you would love to learn how to do? Play guitar or speak Turkish fluently 

  • What is a place that is at the top of your travel bucket list? Konya, Turkey

  • What is a book, podcast, or TV show that you have enjoyed recently? TV Show: The Peripheral

  • If you could sit down and have a conversation with someone that you would love to learn from, who would it be? Maya Angelou 


1:00 Meet Anila

4:25 Anila’s story

7:40 Anila talks about the current state of immigration in Canada

11:40 Anlia discusses how teaching and learning is an integral part of the important work happening at the Centre for Newcomers

14:55 Anila addresses some of the barriers that newcomers face

19:55 With the current barriers and challenges that newcomers face, Anila explains what changes need to happen and why

27:55 Anila reflects on her favourite learning experiences and teachers

34:00 What Anila is most proud of looking back on her journey so far

36:30 Anila answers some rapid fire questions

39:45 Anila’s words of wisdom



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